December 19, 2003
Max 'Commodus' Sawicky Plunges To New Depths

Ancient authors record that the emperor Commodus wished to earn glory as a gladiator without actually risking his life in fair combat. If we are to believe the epitome of Cassius Dio Book LXXVIII (scroll down to chapter 20), he once put on a public exhibition in which he fought and slaughtered a group of 'Giants', in imitation of Hercules. The original Giants were of course huge, had snakes for feet, and hurled massive rocks, but Commodus' opponents were ordinary humans, unarmed and (sorry!) unfooted:

. . . he had once got together all the men in the city who had lost their feet as the result of disease or some accident, and then, after fastening about their knees some likenesses of serpents' bodies, and giving them sponges to throw instead of stones, had killed them with blows of a club, pretending that they were giants.

Max Sawicky seems to share Commodus' lust for fraudulent glory, though he sticks to verbal rather than physical violence. On Wednesday (12/17, 12:40 PM) he posted a long reply to my criticisms of his remarks on Panama (here and here). In it he answers some, but not all, of my arguments, while carefully concealing the name of his opponent from his readers. None of the seven comments posted so far betrays any knowledge of my actual arguments, so none of them does a particularly good job of answering them. I will shortly post a comment cluing them in: we'll see whether Sawicky is honest enough not to delete it.

I don't blame Sawicky for not linking to me -- I didn't link to him, because I have found him dishonest in the past. But I did give his name and the dates and times of his posts, and any reader of my site will have found little difficulty tracking them down. He alludes to me only passively ("I've been challenged") and offers a 1990 report from Human Rights Watch to show that the 1989 intervention was a failure. This was too much even for his readers, and he later (no time recorded) added an update trashing the good name of Freedom House and quoting various more recent authorities, the last of them Noam Chomsky.

Since I'm leaving very early in the morning for a day trip to New York, I will confine my reply to a few salient points:

  1. Why doesn't Sawicky mention the case of Grenada? If we're arguing whether American invasions have or have not improved the countries invaded, isn't more evidence better than less?
  2. The question at issue was whether American intervention did or not help Panama towards democracy. The fact that previous administrations were in cahoots with various Panamanian thugs is simply irrelevant. It proves only that the invasion came a lot later than it should have, which you can hardly allege if you think it shouldn't have come at all.
  3. The fact that Panama still suffers from corruption and other problems does not prove that Freedom House's high rating for freedom (1-2) is fraudulent. Many solid democracies with the highest FH rating (1-1) have serious corruption problems: just off the top of my head I can think of Elf-Aquitaine scandals in France, Chrétien's Shawinigan shenanigans in Canada, accusations against Berlusconi in Italy too numerous and complicated to comprehend, and the long-time high-level cover-up of a murderous pedophile ring in Belgium. In the U.S., we have (just to take one example of many) both the winner and runner-up in a recent Louisiana gubernatorial election currently in jail. This would only be evidence that the U.S. is not a democracy if they were innocent. Corruption prove very little about whether Panama is free, either. Deep poverty and gross disparities of wealth are also perfectly compatible with democracy. Mentioning them looks a lot like an attempt to change the subject.
  4. Freedom House is run by establishment types of both parties, and Sawicky alleges that that makes their ratings unreliable. A look at the actual ratings shows that they are not in fact going out of their way to make either Bush administration look good. Our supposed friends in Saudi Arabia get the lowest possible rating (7-7), and many of the countries that have supplied bases for the war in Iraq are not much better: Qatar 6-6, Oman 6-5, Uzbekistan 7-6, Eritrea 7-6. Even relatively civilized Kuwait and Djibouti only rate 4-5. Freedom House could have given higher numbers to the more obscure places, and not one American in a million would know what was going on, but they didn't. France, Germany, and Belgium all get the highest possible score (1-1), despite their opposition to Bush and various corruption scandals, because they are in fact functioning democracies. Post-Taliban Afghanistan is rated higher this year than last, but not by much: it is now a 6-6 instead of a 7-7. If Sawicky wants to impugn these ratings, he needs to put up or shut up by offering evidence that they are (a) wrong, and (b) systematically so. Showing that compiling such ratings is not a science will not suffice.
  5. The fact that someone Sawicky thought was a jerk in college 30 years ago now works for Freedom House proves nothing. I was in college 30 years ago, and some of my jerkier classmates have turned out tolerably well, while some of the more tolerable classmates have evolved, or degenerated, into total assholes. In any case, even the most respectable organization is likely to have a jerk or two among its employees if it has more than 10 or 15.

    Tangential point: Sawicky accuses the nameless classmate of 'taking notes' at "our meetings". No word on who "we" were, and why they should have objected to note-taking. If the meetings were public, why shouldn't anyone who wanted to take notes? And if they were private, why didn't they just ask the jerk to leave? It's all very mysterious.

Turning back to the main point, Freedom House's website is a little confusing, and I have only now found the last few years' ratings for Panama, Grenada, and other countries. Here are my revised charts, graphically illustrating the FH ratings over time:

It looks as if the U.S. overthrow of Gen. Noriega in 1989 put Panama back on its previous gradual upward path towards democracy after a fairly steep downward plunge over the previous decade. Is Freedom House falsifying the data to protect evil Republicans? If so, they did a lousy job of it: most of the first upward thrust is during the Carter administration, while the longest downward trend is under Reagan.

It looks as if the U.S. overthrow of Gen. Coard in 1983 rapidly restored democracy to Grenada after a five-year interlude of steep decline. If Max Sawicky has evidence that Grenada today is actually a brutal tyranny of Turkmenbashing proportions, he needs to present it. Quotations from the likes of Noam Chomsky will only weaken his case among sensible readers.

I could say more, but I have to go to bed now. More in about 25 hours.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at December 19, 2003 10:57 PM